Sunday, 17 July 2016

Lynne Voyce: Diary of a Novelist: The National Writers Conference: What I Learnt

Lynne Voyce: Diary of a Novelist: The National Writers Conference: What I Learnt: This weekend I've been lucky enough to go to the National Writer's Conference at the University of Birmingham, organised by Writing...

The National Writers Conference: What I Learnt

This weekend I've been lucky enough to go to the National Writer's Conference at the University of Birmingham, organised by Writing West Midlands. I have to admit the early start was tough. The previous night was Year 11 Prom for the outgoing students of the school where I teach.  Let's just say that afterwards I went on for a 'few drinks' with my colleague and enjoyed a little fizzy refreshment.  So, when I first arrived at the conference to register I was more concerned with getting some coffee down me than 'networking'.  Once refreshed though I was more than ready to rub shoulders with the rest of the delegates (for want of a better word).  The day was organized as follows: a key note speech (by Rosie Goldsmith), which I enjoyed; three 'break out' sessions' which I had already chosen from a list;  a final keynote speech from Bali Rai (who I have met and heard before).  In the middle of it all was lunch.

If truth be told I was there for the second of my chosen the sessions, Working with Editors and Agents, more of which later.  So, it was with little more than passing interest I went to the first session: Understanding the Book Trade.  I admit that this didn't really hit the spot for me.  It was mainly a discussion of non-fiction, so didn't really tell me what I needed to know.  The third session: A Writer's Life, Keeping Your Options Open was a bit more useful.  The panel included Paul Mc Veigh and Mike Gayle.  In this session one writer basically explained how you'd never make any money from writing, while the second writer, who came in late so missed what the first said, proceeded to tell us that he'd made a decent living out of publishing fourteen novels.  At the end of this session I followed all the advice I'd been giving about making the most of a conference and approached one of the panelists to ask a very specific question about querying an agent.  He basically told me off for not having a spine, made me feel silly and left me a bit down hearted.  He redeemed himself, however, when at the end of the conference he said goodbye to me and wished me luck.  I'll need it, I thought, as I sloped back to my life and all my writerly self doubt.

Anyway, the middle session was the one I found most useful and this was about working with editors and agents.  The panel for this included an editor with a major publishing house, an agent and an editor with a small poetry press.  What I basically learnt from this session is that the writing has got to be the very best you can make it before you submit, you have to be personable and professional and you shouldn't give up.  Well, you might say, I knew all that already.  So did I.  But I just had to be reminded .

So, in response to it all, I've polished my query letter and spruced up my synopsis.  I was fired up.  The next thing was to give the first fifty pages of Weigh Me the Fire a quick once over and then I'd click 'send'.  To my dismay, during this last, 'final' check, I realised that Chapter 2 needs a further edit and there's a tiny sliver of something else I need to add. Never act in haste, was a further message I'd inferred from the advice in session 2, so I decided to hold fire.  Next week is my first Teachers' 204 meeting with Writing West Midlands and I'm hoping that might be the way of finding an 'expert reader' who can just give me those last few polishing pointers.  In the meantime I'm going to start on novel number two.

Lynne Voyce is an award winning short fiction writer who has been widely published.  Her first solo collection Kirigami (Ink Tears Press) is available on Amazon.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Lynne Voyce: Diary of a Novelist: The Last Five Percent and Other Aphorisms...

Lynne Voyce: Diary of a Novelist: The Last Five Percent and Other Aphorisms...: As Fred Evans, my secondary school English teacher, used to say: the last five percent is always the hardest.  Well, as far as Weigh Me the...

The Last Five Percent and Other Aphorisms...

As Fred Evans, my secondary school English teacher, used to say: the last five percent is always the hardest.  Well, as far as Weigh Me the Fire goes, I think I may be on the last five percent.  And yes, indeed, Fred was right, it is the hardest.





So, as I have not posted for quite a while, here is where I am up to: I have finished the novel in third draft; last week it was read in entirety for the first time by my friend, who declared 'she loved it'; I have managed to secure some help for the next stage of the novel editing process from my local arts provider (this was the important meeting I alluded to at the end of the last post).  Now, I know which part of the previous sentence the discerning reader will have raised an eyebrow to, the part where I talk about my friend reading the book and loving it.  And reader, you are right to question this point.  Let me just say, however, that only those who have got to the stage of having finished a novel that they are willing to let other's read know:
a.) How difficult it is to get people to read it.
b.) What a difference it makes when the first person who does, says it isn't tripe. 


The other surprising thing that came out of this initial reading is that my friend thinks Weigh Me the Fire is a literary novel.  This is interesting to me as I have had a problem with the idea of genre right from the beginning of the writing process.  Apparently, in your letter to agents you have to state the genre of your offering.  Well, unless you set out to write a genre novel, I think this is really difficult, after all, literary, erotic, romantic, women's fiction isn't an actual genre.  This 'naming' issue is one of the reasons I spent so much energy seeking help from my regional arts provider.  I'm hoping I am going to be able to speak to someone with more novel publishing experience than me and get a bit of a steer on this.


So, there we have it.  Weigh Me the Fire is an actual living, breathing thing, a finished - if not a polished - piece.


The next steps are to make a few improvements as suggested by Beta Reader Number 1 and engage promised Beta Readers 2 & 3 to see what they think.   Then with a bit of luck (and the help of my arts provider) I will have a final read through by a professional writer or reader.  And after that ... I might just have to send it off.


What I am looking forward to now is getting back to the cut and thrust of short fiction.  I have a lovely event coming up next week, which holds personal significance for me.  For the third time I am lucky enough to have a story in The Cheshire Prize for Literature Anthology (Patches of Light, Chester University Press) and I have been invited to the book launch next week.  This will be held at the University of Chester.  Both my mum and dad worked there for a long time, Dad as a porter (once he'd left factory work) and mum as a house keeper.  How lovely that I get to go back there to honour my parents.  And after that, in the school summer holidays, I think it may be time to start novel number two. 


I've realized that what's most important in this novel writing lark novel is to (optimistically) just keep going.


Lynne Voyce's short fiction has been widely published.  Her first solo collection Kirigami (Ink Tears Press) is available on Amazon.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Lynne Voyce: Diary of a Novelist: Where are we now? Plus, a great unsung railway jo...

Lynne Voyce: Diary of a Novelist: Where are we now? Plus, a great unsung railway jo...: It's only when you pretty much finish a second draft of a novel that you can start dabbling in something else, I think.  So, roughly a...

Where are we now? Plus, a great unsung railway journey.

It's only when you pretty much finish a second draft of a novel that you can start dabbling in something else, I think.  So, roughly about February I thought I'd dip my toe back into the short story waters and get a couple of things out.  God knows, in terms of my psychology, I needed to.  Well, the last week has been a red letter week in terms of writing: I've been shortlisted for something; received a lovely letter inviting me to a swanky anthology launch that has one of my stories in it; and I've come second in a fairly big competition with a very healthy prize pot.  Yay celebrate!  But still sitting there, with its guilt inducing siren song, is THE NOVEL!  Yes, that thing you relentlessly work on that you know has little chance of seeing the light of day but you somehow can't give up on.  At 80,000 words it's like writing and editing 40 odd short stories and the thing is with stories you can send them out, get the odd yes, perhaps a bit of money, move on to the next one, create a new world, write out what ever your dreams and fears are at the time they're happening.  A novel is a whole different prospect.  But I think this may be the key - you simply have to take your time.  Which is exactly what I decided to do this weekend.  And this decision had monumental consequences in terms of the novel.

It all started on Friday.  I often visit my mother in the North West and this was one such weekend.  I left work with my overnight bag (which contained my now full manuscript) and got to New Street Station about an hour early for my train, so I went to a noodle bar and got out Weigh Me the Fire.  The plan was to read the novel as someone else would, a traveller or a commuter.  The opening was pretty good and I wanted to read on.

By the time I caught my train I was about twelve chapters in and pretty pleased with myself.  I got on the slow train from Birmingham to Chester.  I can choose to go to Liverpool or Chester, you see and those of you who know these cities will realise there is a difference in pace and this weekend was going to be a little slower than usual.  I continued to read.  Still fine but for the odd chapter that was underdeveloped or a bit of prose that sounded suspiciously like a Mills and Boon (perhaps that says something about my wish fulfilment).  The scenery went by and I was enjoying doing a bit of reading, glancing out of the window and maybe dozing a little.  Just as an aside, the Arriva Train Wales that runs between Birmingham and Chester takes you on quite a beautiful route.  Once you get past Shrewsbury you are in spectacular border country:  Gobowen and Chirk have the most wonderful valleys that you cross, once of which has an aquaduct running alongside the railway bridge.  Yes, I was the lady novelist on an adventure. And it was a familiar but glorious adventure too.  Even at Chester station there was the surreal vision of the races being on and the platforms were filled with hundreds of people looking like they were going to their cousin's wedding. All good.

At my mum's I continued to intermittently read my novel between discussion about the elections and the odd glass of wine and then on Saturday afternoon it was time to return.  Again I would get the slow train and read the last fifth of the novel on the way.  It was then it happened.  And it was quite unexpected.  The ending didn't work.  It was too down beat.  Too out of character for the protagonist.  How could that be?  I've been working with that ending for over a year and it always seemed OK before.  Now, having read the book like a reader I realise that the last two chapters have to be pretty much scrapped.  There is a positive from all this though: at least what I had read up to that point meant that there was a certain ending that the reader needs.  That in itself suggests a certain coherence.  I don't know what that ending is yet I jut know it wasn't the one I provided.

Back in Birmingham I stepped out of the station to a sulphurous flash of lightening and the heavens opened.  I was quite literally walking into a storm.  Pathetic fallacy?

Next week I have a very important meeting that might help me with the last leg of the novel writing process.  I'll tell you how it goes next time I blog.

Lynne Voyce has had over 50 short stories published.  Her collection Kirigami (Ink Tears Press is now available on Amazon and the publishers website)
Image courtesy of Luxury Yatch Company